Compensation for Car Accident Injuries
If you were injured in a car accident through the careless action of another driver, you may be entitled to compensation. You can take important steps, beginning in the immediate aftermath of the accident, to maximize your recovery.
What is a car accident?
Sometimes known as a motor vehicle accident (or “MVA”), a car accident occurs when a driver, through careless actions or the failure to act, inadvertently causes property damage or injury. An accident is unintended. A driver who deliberately strikes another person or vehicle does not cause an accident. That distinction is important because drivers are usually insured for accidents but not for intentional misconduct.
Although a driver can accidently injure himself or herself in a single-vehicle accident by, for example, crashing into a telephone pole, car accidents that result in compensation occur when a driver accidentally injures someone else. That person is usually the occupant of another motor vehicle, but it could also be a pedestrian, a bicyclist, or even the driver’s own passenger.
They key to obtaining compensation is proof that the driver’s carelessness caused the injury. The legal term for carelessness is “negligence.” A negligent driver (or the driver’s insurance company) is responsible for paying compensation when the driver caused an injury by failing to drive with the ordinary caution that is expected from reasonable drivers.
Violating a traffic safety law is almost always a negligent act. Running a red light, failing to yield the right of way at an intersection, or texting while driving are examples of traffic violations that cause car accidents.
Other acts of negligence can lead to auto accidents without violating a traffic law. For example, a driver who simply fails to pay attention to the road and rear-ends another car is negligent even if the driver did not disobey a specific traffic regulation.
What types of car accidents can result in compensation?
Car accidents can occur in a variety of ways. Some common examples include:
- Head-on collisions. These usually happen when two vehicles approach each other and one crosses the center line. If both vehicles are close to the center line when the collision occurs, there may be a dispute about which driver crossed the line and caused the crash. Impartial witnesses and accident reconstruction engineers can often provide the evidence of fault that is necessary to pursue a successful claim for compensation.
- Rear-end collisions. When one driver crashes into the rear of another driver, fault is usually clear. A driver who is stopped at a traffic light, for example, can do nothing to prevent the accident if an approaching driver fails to stop before colliding. Nearly 30% of all car accidents involve rear-end collisions.
- Side-impact collisions. Sometimes known as “T-bone” collisions, a side-impact collision occurs when one car crashes into the side of another car. Most intersection accidents are side-impact collisions. Drivers who run red lights, disregard stop signs, or fail to yield at uncontrolled intersections are usually responsible for side-impact collisions.
- Sideswipe collisions. Sideswipes occur when the sides of two cars scrape against each other. They often involve a moving car sideswiping a parked car, but they are more likely to lead to injuries when the sideswipe occurs as the result of a careless lane change or an unintended deviation from a traffic lane.
- Multiple-car collisions. Also known as “chain reaction collisions,” a multiple car collision usually occurs when one vehicle rear-ends another, pushing that car into the next car, and so on. Multiple-car collisions often happen on busy highways and freeways when traffic is bumper-to-bumper. Sometimes they result from careless lane changes that cause other drivers to panic. In other cases, a driver who is rear-ended might be pushed into an oncoming lane of traffic, causing a pileup of cars in the oncoming lane.
- Intersection collisions. Intersection accidents account for about 40% of all reported car crashes. As noted above, side-impact collisions commonly occur in intersections. Rear-end collisions occur in intersections when one driver fails to notice that another driver has stopped in the middle of the intersection while waiting to make a turn. Head-on collisions occasionally result when drivers who are approaching each other in an intersection each make a left turn at the same time.
What kinds of car accident injuries can result in the payment of compensation?
Any injury that is caused by a driver’s negligence can create a legal responsibility to pay compensation. Very minor injuries (scrapes or bruises) may not be worth pursuing and it may be impossible to collect from a driver who is uninsured. Most significant injuries, however, merit compensation when they result from an insured driver’s carelessness.
Common injuries for which compensation can be awarded include:
- Broken bones. Arms, legs, ribs, and skulls are the most common locations of broken bones in car accidents.
- Spinal injuries. Broken necks or backs can leave accident victims paralyzed. Other serious spinal injuries, such as a ruptured or slipped disk, can cause a lifetime of agony.
- Facial scarring and other disfigurements. Facial scarring often results when the accident victim’s head strikes the windshield. A deploying airbag may cause broken noses or other facial injuries, including eye injuries.
- Brain injuries. A concussion can cause temporary symptoms (including dizziness and headaches) that resolve in days or weeks. Serious concussions can result in permanent brain damage. Some head injuries produce internal bleeding or brain swelling that can be life-threatening.
- Wounds. Serious cuts and puncture wounds can result from broken glass or jagged fragments of a damaged car.
- Organ injuries. Internal injuries, such as spleen damage, can occur when the accident victim’s body experiences a violent impact.
- Soft tissue injuries are among the most common car accident injuries. The “soft tissues” that are affected by car accidents include muscles, ligaments, and tendons. When soft tissues are stretched or torn, recovery may require months of painful rehabilitative exercise. Shoulder and back muscles are commonly injured in car accidents. Some disabling soft tissue injuries result in permanent pain and impairment of mobility.
- “Whiplash” injuries are soft tissue injuries in the neck that occur in rear-end collisions when the victim’s head suddenly moves backward as the car is pushed forward. If the victim’s car is pushed into another car, the head rapidly moves forward as the car stops. The quick backward-and-forward movement of the head results in painful injury to neck muscles.
- Nerve damage is a form of soft tissue injury that can produce lasting pain and numbness in any part of the body. It can result from a direct impact or from collateral injuries (such as a broken bone than impinges on the nerve). Pain from nerve damage often “radiates” from the location of the injury to other parts of the body. If you experience nerve damage in your shoulder, for example, you may be troubled by pain that radiates down your arm or into your lower back.
What causes car accidents?
There may be as many causes of car accidents as there are drivers. Nearly every car accident results from careless driving, but drivers find a variety of ways to be careless. Here are some common examples:
- Distracted driving. Texting or dialing a mobile phone causes drivers to take their eyes off the road. While cellphone use has become the most common cause of driver distraction, other distracting events include looking at the mirror while putting on makeup, fiddling with GPS or other devices, and eating while driving. Distracted drivers fail to observe traffic signals, oncoming and stopped vehicles, or their own drifting into another traffic lane.
- Impaired driving. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is one of the most dangerous activities in which a driver can engage.
- Poor judgment. A driver who makes a left turn in front of an oncoming car might cause an accident by misjudging the speed of the oncoming vehicle. Impatient drivers use poor judgment when they drive at unsafe speeds, pass on a curve, or try to pass too many vehicles at one time.
- Racing. Young drivers in particular cause accidents by engaging in street racing.
- Road rage. Drivers who feel the need to vent their anger toward another driver may engage in dangerous driving that includes unsafe passing or tailgating.
- Road conditions. Icy or wet roads can cause drivers to skid. Drivers who hit potholes or obstacles in the road at a high speed may also lose control of their vehicles.
- Obstructed or malfunctioning traffic signs and signals. When the red light on a traffic signal fails to illuminate, drivers may assume it is safe to enter an intersection even in the absence of a green light. Drivers who fail to see a stop sign that is covered by a tree branch might not stop before entering an intersection.
- Mechanical failure. Brake failures, turn signals that do not work, a sticking accelerator pedal, and other mechanical problems with a car can all contribute to accidents.
What should you do if you have been in a car accident?
Injury victims are sometimes dazed or confused after an accident. They need immediate medical care. If you have your wits about you, these are the most important steps to take if you are involved in a car accident:
- Do not move your car until the police arrive.
- Stay in your car until you know that you can exit safely without exacerbating your injuries.
- Call the police. If you do not have a cellphone, find someone who does.
- Determine whether your passengers or other drivers are seriously injured. If they are, do not try to move them. Call an ambulance instead.
- Exchange your name and address with the other driver. Exhibit your driver’s license if asked. Examine the other driver’s license to make sure that the driver has given you his or her correct name.
- Take photographs of the accident scene if you have a chance to do so.
- Try to notice whether there are witnesses present who saw the accident occur. Make sure the investigating officer is aware of those witnesses.
- Do not make any statements about the cause of the accident until the police arrive. Talk to the investigating police officer about the accident, not the other driver.
- Obtain prompt medical care if you experience any symptoms of an injury. If you struck your head in the accident, have someone take you to an emergency room for an examination even if you do not feel that you were injured.
- Notify your own insurance company about the accident.
- If you did not see an emergency room physician, visit your own doctor (or an urgent care facility) as soon as you experience any pain or discomfort. Soft tissue injuries, in particular, might not cause pain until two or three days after the accident.
- If you were injured, get advice from a personal injury lawyer at your earliest opportunity. Do not talk to the other driver’s insurance claims adjuster without first getting advice from your personal injury attorney.
- Follow through on all recommended medical treatment. If you stop treating before you are discharged from care, or if you discontinue physical therapy sessions because they are painful or inconvenient, you will reduce the settlement value of your injury claim.
- Follow your personal injury attorney’s advice so that you can maximize the compensation you recover for your injuries.